Homeless Shelters Concerned As Federal Funding Dries Up

As Alaska’s summer starts to slide toward fall, concern is growing for sheltering the increasing numbers of homeless citizens in Anchorage on cold nights.

Ellen Krsnak is the community relations coordinator for Catholic Social Services, the agency that runs the Brother Francis shelter in the city.

Bean’s Cafe is across a parking lot from Brother Francis. Krsnak says Bean’s is a day shelter and serves breakfast and lunch.

Brother Francis handles the evening meal and provides a safe place to sleep, but often more beds are needed and Bean’s has provided sleeping space.

Federal money that was administered by the Municipality of Anchorage has dried up and without it, Krsnak says, the overflow numbers of homeless who need a bed on cold nights won’t be able to sleep at Beans.

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Anchorage Health and Human Services director Janet Vietmeier says the problem of coming up with shelter funding for Anchorage’s homeless citizens is not a new topic.

Vietmeier says there are others in the community who have volunteered to provide services that Catholic Social Services would normally have to pay for. She declined to name who those volunteer organizations are.

If overflow shelter is not available at Bean’s Cafe this winter, homeless people would have to leave the area of Brother Francis and Beans to find warm beds on cold nights in other parts of the city. Transportation is not provided by any entity at this point. Vietmeier says people seem to figure it out.

“I guess I can answer that with, we have people that stay at gospel rescue mission and that’s not in that area, so somehow they find a way to find a warm place to sleep at night,” she said.

Vietmeier says the mayor considers the issue of safe shelter for the homeless a priority, but a meeting with organizations who advocate for the poor, including Catholic Social services has not yet been scheduled.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 24 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori